Maduros y Queso Blanco (Pituca y Abi)

Pituca woke up. Tomorrow was today. She'd slept in her day clothes because she and Abi fought and after he walked out on her by the Guacabon she'd made her way home along the river, climbed up the bank to her back yard, and gone to sleep in her clothes not wanting to live. This morning the sky was overcast and heavy. Her head throbbed not only from her soul pain but because hurricane Olga was hovering. When would Guabancex awaken wind and rain?
Now it was barely dawn. She walked down hill to the Guacabon, into the pinking sky, still wearing the same, now wrinkled, bright pink blouse with turquoise flowers embroidered at the wide collar, and the soft, flowing black pants. She sat on the big flat stone. Last night she'd gotten dressed for a party even though it was an impromptu celebration two houses down for Silvio who'd broken out of the Camp, and turned up last night still covered in black muck from crawling out the drain pipes. She dressed up because she and Abi had never before gone to a party together. They'd never really gone out but a few days ago they had set tomorrow as their wedding date. Cosas de locos. Tomorrow was today.
They'd argued at the celebration. Now as she walked she tried to make herself not think about the fight. But her mind went right back to it, dog with a bone. It was just that she and Abi weren't used to being with people. They were used to being alone together. They were used to being in bed. Did this mean they were not yet an actual couple?
Now as she walked she saw the moment last night through Abi's gaze. She saw the tall white guy talking to her by the drinks table set up in Silvio's back yard, close to the house. She saw the moment when Abi saw her with the man. The tall white man had a square face, pretty in a white way, and he had tiny, shiny blue eyes. He stood too close. He leaned down to her as he held out to her a glass of coconut water and rum. He was one of the few people she'd run into in Coral who was almost as tall as she was. He wore a tight blue t-shirt. He wanted to show off his arms and his flat belly. Now she felt it, although she hadn't felt it then. Abi was right that this guy was a predator. As she approached the bank she saw the moment when Abi saw her with the man and stepped away from Silvio who'd cleaned off the black muck and wore his best white linen guayabera. Abi had been standing with Silvio by the door, as usual, as always, socializing and also interviewing him for his two bylines, Verdad and Voz de Coral. He left Silvio mid-word, strode over, took Pituca by the hand, glared at the white man, and walked Pituca the full length of Silvio's yard, down the rocky slope of the Guacabon bank, to the very spot by the river where she sat now.
The first words out of his mouth were, "He's a jungle fever predator." He'd screamed the words again. "He's a jungle fever predator. What are you doing with that white predator?"
Now it was very clear. She saw what it looked like to Abi. But last night his words shocked her. "You're jealous? I never imagined you'd be jealous. I never imagined anyone would be jealous of me. I don't want to be controlled." What had she been thinking? She could care less about that white guy. She made a point to never get close to such a man. He'd been talking about election fraud. "I was listening because he's new at Justice Works. They're starting a big project to investigate Chirino's re-election. I was being your stringer. I thought he'd have a good story for you. I was looking around to find you, so I could introduce you. I told him my novio is a reporter..." Abi shook. "I've gotta go before I hurt you."
This morning-after-the fight, the day of their supposed wedding, she woke up knowing just exactly what she must do. She and Abi argued and now here she was by the Guacabon, at the source of true life. Ochun dwelled here. Atabey dwelled here. She felt concentric waves of breath filling her torso. She felt her brain as small as the brillante Abi gave her and hung from her neck on a chain. She felt the tiny, cold, dark stone. She'd barely slept but now her spirit rested as she breathed. It rested in Ochun, in Atabey. She had to lead Abi's spirit to its rest. And where was his spirit's resting place?
She set off to Palenque. She breathed and as she did she knew nothing was broken. "Nothing permanent is broken between us." She saw him in her mind's eye, sitting at La Fabrica de Escritores. She pictured him under the palmeras, at one of the wooden chairs, with his tiny tablet on his lap. She wished that she could beam herself there, or astral travel to him. But she made herself sink into her heart, keep her brain shiny and small. She simply breathed all the way to the bustop by the Plaza, and the whole ride long. At this early hour she got a seat and she let her eyes feed on the portales with the shuttered businesses; the pastel houses, flush to the street, with their long narrow barred windows still shut; the row of gas stations and auto shops where Calle Caracol became the Carretera Naval; the shades of green along the carretera, sometimes dusty and other times jungle deep; and at last, the sea, the iridescent pulsing, turquoise Caribbean home of Yemaya. She knew it. Yemaya was Abi's resting place. If she could lead his energy to rest in Yemaya he would be in repose again.
She got off at the Palenque overlook and gazed down at the tapestry of lean-tos, tarps, tiny houses left over from when this was the Playa Coral Eco-Preserve. The sight always took her breath away. She remembered to breathe deep. The sea beyond the encampment was calm and clear today. It took her a moment to get her bearings. La Fabrica was roughly in the very center of Palenque, in the tabernaculo. She recognized the red roof of El Comedor de las Senoras de los Frijoles which she knew was right next door to it, and walked downhill and into the narrow path among shelters that she guessed would bring her there. La Fabrica was just a few yards beyond El Comedor. The writers could replenish their coffee supply all day.
Abi sat at one of the wooden chairs closest to the far side of La Fabrica. The place was nearly empty except for one young man in wire rim glasses she didn't remember seeing before and that guy whose name she didn't remember, who always wore a guayabera and must be one of Abi's sources because he knew everything and told everyone what he knew. He sat close to where Pituca strode into la Fabrica, looked up at her from his ancient, enormous, rebuilt laptop. "Tanto tiempo." Guille! His name was Guille. It came to her as she opened her mouth to say hello. "Hola, Don Guille." He grabbed her by the wrist. "Tu sabes que viene Olga. Un huracan con el nombre de mi segunda mujer. Last month the one named Marta, my first wife, that one never came. Olga was another story. Doesn't bode well."
Abi sensed her beside him. "Como me encontraste?" She shrugged. "You know que soy bruja."
He set down the laptop and let her pull him up. He shoved the laptop in his back back. He let her take his hand. They walked to the beach.
They stripped down to their underwear and waded in. The water was warm and so salty it forced them to surrender and float. They lay on their backs, eyes closed, the whole world red and glowing behind their eyelids. His hand rested on hers. They said nothing. They waded back to shore and sat on the sand letting the sun dry their underclothes. Abi held on to Pituca's hand.
"Nothing permanent is broken between us." His voice shook. He turned to face her. "I'm a bit ashamed. I surprised myself. I wanted to put my hands around that guy's neck."
"Maybe everything you ever had a white guy took it or tried to take it."
Abi shook his head. "I should know better than to doubt you."
"Because you're human it's a given you will do some fucked up shit. I just wanted you to interview him."
"I'm gonna interview him."
"I think I've got his card at home."
"Te convido a desayunar en El Comedor en mi mesa al lado de la puerta. We're still in time for my favorite meal, the Wednesday special, tortilla Palenque, maduros con queso blanco. "We'll celebrate our first fight." They slipped into their clothes and walked hand in hand back to La Fabrica, through it, to El Comedor. Abi pointed to the table closest to the front entrance. "Mi mesa. Maduros and queso blanco. Nothing better on planet earth."
Abi drew the chair closest to the door out from under the small table with its fruit patterned red and purple vinyl table cloth, and offered it to Pituca. Just then a group of four strode past them into the Comedor to the counter at the back. The woman in the lead turned back and stood by Abi and Pituca. "Dichosos los ojos!"
"Lorenza!" Abi spread his legs wide, made himself shorter, and embraced the woman who stood on the tips of her six inch heels to reach him. Her entourage joined her. The young woman with long curls and equally high heels leaned toward Lorenza and handed her a cafe con leche in a cardboard cup. The man with them was the man from last night's party for Silvio. He joined them. He had a pastelillo de guayaba in one hand and a cafe con leche in the other.
"Te presento a Danny." The man smiled as he set his food and drink on the table, dragged a chair over, and sat down.
"Ya nos conocemos." Abi and Pituca spoke these words at once.
Nobody had to invite Lorenza Vasconcelos and her entourage. She declared herself welcome everywhere. They all dragged chairs over from nearby tables and sat down.
"Danny's with Justice Works. They're taking on Chirino's stolen election. He's told me he'll give you exclusive access to their investigation, their litigation strategy. You've got to commit to pushing this story onto the front pages of La Voz de Coral and you've got to get it into Verdad using your other byline."
Abi nodded. Pituca took his hand. "You have another byline?" Abi shook his head. "Lorenza, don't you know about need to know?" They laughed.
"We're all set then. We'll stop by Justice Works now." Danny looked at his watch and stood up. "Later this afternoon we're headed to La Guaca del Guacabon. Why don't you join us? I've got my scuba gear at Justice Works. I want to see the underwater petroglyphs."
Abi glanced at Pituca. She nodded her assent. To Danny he said, "You know hurricane Olga's making landfall any moment. Not the best time to go to the Guaca. The caves are the main hurricane shelter."
Lorenza rose. "Weather's not going to stop Danny." She reached for her assistant's hand. "Vente Sonia." She tugged at the young woman. "We're not wearing the right shoes for going into a cave."
Danny and Abi took off for Justice Works. The women took off for Pituca's home to borrow shoes. They all agreed to meet at the entrance to the Guaca in the mid-afternoon. As they parted Abi whispered, "No me olvido que hoy nos casamos." Somehow they were to have their wedding.
Pictuca stood in the depths of the cavern.
The Guacabon, underground, rumbled castanets over the stones. Outside rain and thunder marched. The troops of climate change attacked them. They'd been in the cave shelter for the better part of superstorm Olga. Hours. She saw Danny emerge from the water. No storm stopped him from scuba diving into the Guaca's pond, with underwater lights, to see the submerged petroglyphs of Atabey. So far the pond's level had only risen slightly with the storm. Pituca stared at the waters. She remembered her childhood nightmare of an underground tidal wave. She studied Lorenza and Sonia who worked their captive crowd building their Somos el Mandato resistance to Chirino's stolen election.
A lady named Kumba handed her a bunch of tiny purple flowers. Turned out she'd grown them under lights in the depths of the Guaca where she lived. This kindred bruja knew more than Pituca. She insisted if Pituca kept breathing, if they all kept breathing, they'd entrain the storm, harness it. Pituca heard her approach, her cane ticking, a giant with a wooden leg. In Karaya, outside, there were valleys and mountains. Here there was darkness, rain, the underground Guacabon's river stone castanets. Here were hundreds of Palenqueros gathered in this cave storm shelter.
Kumba believed. She believed Abi would turn up. If only Pituca kept believing Abi would turn up and they would have their wedding. But Abi and Danny had parted before heading to the cave and Danny had ended here but where was Abi? There was no telling which cave shelter he'd been herded into. Had she been a fool to, of all things, grab her wedding dress as the storm broke and they were herded into the cave shelters?
A bat swooped and grazed Pituca's hair. She looked up. Dozens hung from the high dome of the cavern. They were persistent in their stillness. Lorenza screamed. She took off running. Her feet were too tiny and none of Pituca's shoes had fit. She stumbled in her six inch heels. She twisted her ankle. Her scream echoed and shuddered. A bat stared at Pituca. His eye fixed, focused. On the wall of the cave someone had graffitied LGBTQ in big, bubble letters. Pituca reached for Lorenza and tried to pull her up. "You're not so strong." Kumba took Lorenza's other hand. She rested her against the cave wall. She laid her hands on Lorenza's swelling ankle.
The music from the next chamber of the cave burst now. Danny had pulled open the thick curtain. Abi stepped into the bat cavern.
Pituca watched her fiance approach her. Under her breath she sang along. "I'm in love with your body." He stood beside her. She had her hand on her hip. He stroked her white silk dress. Love in this club was a dangerous thing. On the flat screen tv portraits of women were flashing. Pituca noticed two of them were pregnant. Kumba's black cat ran across the floor and swatted at a gold chain on the cave floor. Abi picked it up and handed it to Pituca. "Something borrowed," he said.
He whispered into her ear. "The music is too loud. You're gonna hear me wrong. You're wedding dress is like lingerie." She laughed. "How could you think my special dress is like underwear?"
"I can't believe you brought your wedding dress."
"The decision squeezed my heart."
Abi stepped closer and kissed her. "Why should superstorm Olga stop our wedding?"